In a recent vote, the Nebraska State Liquor Board decided to revoke the licenses of the four liquor stores that comprise the sole occupants of the town of Whiteclay, Nebraska. The town, located just 250 yards from the dry Pine Ridge Indian reservation, has had, in its 130 years of existence, just one purpose: the provision of alcohol to the Native Americans of Pine Ridge.
The vote was highly lauded by groups such as a local Christian charity as well as Native activists. But it is not without its serious doubters. Terry Robbins is the sheriff of Sheridan County, Nebraska, the vast county of cattle ranches and farmland in which Whiteclay is located. He echoes other opponents of shutting the liquor stores when he says that the removal of easy access to beer – the stores there don’t sell hard liquor – will just empower bootleggers and encourage the importation of truly hard liquor onto the Pine Ridge reservation, bypassing all legal means of sale and putting the role of store clerk into the hands of hardened criminals.
Robbins also notes another serious concern. The removal of Whiteclay, located just five miles from the main part of Pine Ridge, will encourage reservation residents to drive to the nearest stores to buy beer and liquor. These are located many miles away. Robbins fears that this will lead to many times more miles driven drunk on his county’s roads. He points out that it is only a matter of when, not if, such a spike in drunk driving will result in fatalities.